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Patricia Rozema credits hardworking parents for her success

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Cathy Dobson

Patricia Rozema was preparing to shoot the opening scene of her Jane Austen movie “Mansfield Park” when she was hit with an immobilizing headache.

In the hospital, she was told she had meningitis.

But the shoot had to go on as scheduled, so Rozema hired a private ambulance to take her to the set. With a walkie-talkie in hand, she lay flat on her back and directed an entire day.

“I tell you this because if you aren’t in a job you love, find one you do love, one that you’ll hire an ambulance for,” the celebrated Canadian writer, producer and director said during a Famous 5 luncheon that drew 75 people to the Holiday Inn last week.

Rozema, 59, who grew up in Sarnia, was speaking for the first time in her hometown about her life and the drive that led her to write and direct a growing list of successful feature films, documentaries, TV shows, children’s features and shorts.

“There’s always an excuse for your work not to be great but you have to plow through and make no excuses,” she said.

She paid tribute to her father, John Rozema, who was in the audience, and her late mother Jacoba Berandina, crediting them for inspiring the confidence she could succeed.

“I had great parents,” said Rozema.  “I never doubted that they loved me and they set very high standards.

“They were models of success too. I got to see how you could be an honest and hardworking person and have a very positive influence.”

Her father co-founded a number of local companies including Steeves and Rozema Group apartments, retirement homes, construction, and long-term care facilities. And he hired many women for leadership roles, Rozema said.

“He treated me like my brain mattered so I had faith in myself that I could figure things out.”

Rozema said was insecure about her looks as a pre-teen and got a big laugh from the audience when she recounted her mother’s reaction.

“My mother said to me, ‘You’re not so beautiful that it’s going to get in your way. And you’re not so ugly that it’s going to get in your way, so you can do what you want,’” Rozema recounted.

“That left me thinking about what I wanted to achieve. My parents gave me a giant leg up.”

Rozema left Sarnia in the mid-‘70s to study at Calvin College in Michigan when she was 17. She still returns home frequently to see family and said the community has dramatically changed, and for the better.

“The downtown is revitalized and the (Capitol, now Imperial) theatre is back and Sarnia has a new film festival.

“When I was young, anyone between 18 and 40 just got out of here, unless they stayed to work in Chemical Valley,” she said.

“That’s changed now and young people are staying or returning to work in Sarnia. That’s really healthy.”

Rozema’s first feature film “I Heard the Mermaids Singing” was made when she was just 28 and won the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes. It was voted one of Canada’s 10 best films.

She went on to direct Six Gestures for television, which was nominated for a Grammy and won an Emmy. Other notable work was the writing of Grey Gardens with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, directing the children’s feature Kit Kitteridge and directing several episodes of HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me.

Rozema is currently working on a feature film adapted from a play called Mouthpeice, which she describes as an ode to mothers.

“It’s got that sweet spot I love with a mix of comedy and drama,” she said.

Rozema was the final speaker for this year in the Embridge Famous 5 Speaker Series featuring women of courage and vision.

Others in this year’s series included Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar and Sarnia’s Janice McMichael-Dennis, CEO of Bluewater Power.





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